Bifo: Does connectivity kill sensibility?

The following is a disturbing but very interesting and stimulating essay by Bifo, which however requires you to navigate quite some bit of post-modern jargon. The main thesis is that the current stage of connected capitalism is destroying inter-human sensibility, both in the current generation of western youth, but ominously, the economically-driven mass child abandonment (which I’m witnessing here in Thailand), is creating a future generation of violent youth as well.

While undoubtedly based on true observations, I wonder if it does not side too much towards the side of cultural pessisism, and misses the equally important signs of a rebirth of human sociality? Check our pages here for a fuller treatment of the topic.


“In the last decades, the organism has been exposed to an increasing mass of neuro-mobilizing stimuli. The acceleration and intensification of nervous stimulants on the conscious organism seems to have thinned the cognitive film that we might call sensibility. The conscious organism needs to accelerate its cognitive, gestural, kinetic reactivity. The time available for responding to nervous stimuli has been dramatically reduced. This is perhaps why we seem to be seeing a reduction of the capacity for empathy. Symbolic exchange among human beings is elaborated without empathy, because it becomes increasingly difficult to perceive the existence of the body of the other in time. In order to experience the other as a sensorial body, you need time, time to caress and smell. The time for empathy is lacking, because stimulation has become too intense.

How did this happen? What is the cause of these disturbances of empathy whose signals are so evident in daily life, and in the events amplified by the media? Can we hypothesize a direct relationship between the expansion of the Infosphere (acceleration of stimuli and nervous solicitation, of the rhythms of cognitive response) and the crumbling of the sensory film that allows human beings to understand that which cannot be verbalized, that which cannot be reduced to codified signs?

Reducers of complexity such as money, information, stereotypes or digital network interfaces have simplified the relationship with the other, but when the other appears in flesh and blood, we cannot tolerate its presence, because it hurts our (in)sensibility. The video-electronic generation does not tolerate armpit or pubic hair. One needs perfect compatibility in order to interface corporeal surfaces in connection. Smooth generation. Conjunction finds its ways through hairs and the imperfections of exchange. It is capable of analogical reading, and heterogeneous bodies can understand each other even if they do not have an interfacing language.

The destruction of the inter-human sensory film has something to do with the techno-informational universe, but also with the capitalistic disciplining of corporeality. In the final phase of capitalist modernization, the emancipation of woman and her insertion into production has provoked an effect of rarefaction in the corporeal and intellectual contact with the child. The mother has disappeared or has reduced her presence in the experiential sphere of the first video-electronic generation. The combined effect of the so-called emancipation of women (which in reality has been the subjection of women to the circuit of capitalist production), and the diffusion of the televisual socializer has something to do with the contemporary psycho-political catastrophe.

Another upheaval is being prepared in the next generation. In many places, a process is taking place that could have significant consequences in the future. Millions of women in poor countries are forced to abandon their children in order to move to the West to look after the children of other mothers, who cannot look after them because they are too busy with work. What phantasms of frustration and violence will grow in the minds of abandoned children? A people of hyper-armed children has invaded the world scene.”

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